Have you ever admired someone so much that you’re not quite sure where to begin? I’ve felt that way about several people during my short time here on Earth, but one who particularly stands out is my mom, Mary Ann. She’s one of the most resilient, intelligent, classy, grounded women I know and she's my everyday icon. I have memories from childhood that revolve around her sense of calm and, to this day, she still has the ability to ground a room simply by being in it. Though we’ve had many conversations over the years about everything from relationships and fashion choices to grief and self-doubt, I am thrilled to ask her a few questions today that will help share her story with all of you.
Okay, let’s get very real for a moment. You’ve been through a lot of ups and downs over the years, especially with your health. How have you been able to move past things like multiple bouts with cancer, two knee replacements and respiratory issues without letting them define you?
I think my health experiences do define me, but not necessarily in a negative way. When a person is struggling to survive, during cancer treatments, for example, it forces them to get back to basics and decide what is really important. It is a wonderful opportunity to shed a lot of the ego-based reality we get caught up in. It doesn’t seem to matter what others think of me, it doesn’t matter if my house isn’t spotless when company comes, it doesn’t matter so much if I speak a truth that may offend someone. And because of health limitations, at different times in my life, I was allowed to be a “human being” instead of a “human doing” -- to temporarily set aside that drive to keep accomplishing. Those insights have followed me through the rest of my life. I’m not saying that I always remember them, but they are there for me to draw upon. I wouldn’t wish health issues on anyone, but in retrospect, they have been a blessing to me.
As I mentioned you’ve always been a very grounded and centered force in my life. I remember when we would listen to your “do-do, do-do” music (aka: meditation music and nature sound tapes) as a young child. Can you talk about how a focus on your sense of spirit has made you who you are today?
I think when we are young we truly believe that we are the center of the universe. It’s not until we grow up that we figure out that we really aren’t. I wasn’t raised with a religion, per se, so spirituality was always a mystery to me, one that I was drawn to. I seem to have been surrounded by people whose spiritual path was front and center in their lives -- not by accident I’m sure. I think what I learned is that it is a lot easier to face the struggles of this lifetime when we know that there is something bigger than ourselves out there in the universe (whatever you want to call it). There is something very special about taking the time to be in touch with our spirit, whether that be through formal prayer, walking in a garden, meditating, doing tai chi, or just listening to “do-do, do-do" music.
In terms of being a mother, you had a pretty significant issue come up in the delivery room: the fact that I was born with an under-developed right arm. Of course every parent hopes their child is born in perfect health, without any physical or mental limitations and I have to imagine that seeing my half-formed limb must have caused a range of emotions to come over you. Yet, you—along with the rest of the family—have always treated me as though I was just like any other person navigating life’s challenges. How did you get through the early days of raising a daughter with what might be considered a physical limitation?
I hate to say it, but the first thing that comes to mind is “denial” -- those maternal hormones are a wonderful thing! My first feelings were that you were mine and that was all that mattered. Of course, there were doubts about my ability to give you what you needed, and how you would fare in the world, but I think all mothers feel that. It was, however, painful to see other people’s reaction to your arm, but I was always amazed at how you, yourself handled it. I remember being in a grocery line with you in the shopping cart, probably about 3 years old. An older woman was looking at you and your arm and you glared at her and said, “It’s not polite to stare!” The poor, shocked woman turned around and minded her own business. I tried to encourage you to do whatever you wanted to do. When you came to me at age 7 and asked me if you were handicapped, I asked you why you thought you were. You said that you couldn’t do a back flip off of the monkey bars at school and others in your class could. I told you that you could do it, but might just need more practice. Sure enough you came home a few months later and announced that you “did it.” I have always felt that you chose me to be your mom to teach me, and I have certainly learned a lot.
Well, that has me tearing up, Mom! So what what were your greatest challenges as a mother? What about your greatest achievements?
My greatest challenge as a mother was fear that I wasn’t enough and guilt that I wasn’t always there when you needed me. As a working single mom for many years of your childhood, I was continually dividing myself between work and home. As most moms know, finding some sort of balance between the two is a life-long challenge. My greatest achievement as a mom? Looking back now, it is simply, “Phew! I did it!" You have turned into an amazing, caring, insightful human being and I can take some credit (not all, of course) for that. In the process, though, I have grown and evolved, too, despite the daily challenges of motherhood and life in general. At the ripe age of 62, I finally like who I am.
Turning to the present day, one of the things I most admire about you is your strong network of female friends. I can only hope to have a group of friends as fun and loving as yours! Can you give us some tips on maintaining healthy friendships?
I am so blessed to have the wonderful network of friends that I have. As I’ve gone through life, there have been certain people, kindred spirits that I have been drawn to (or who have been drawn to me). I call them “keepers.” While some friends have come and gone, because sometimes we simply outgrow each other as human beings or our lives take different paths, the “keepers” seem to stick. They are those friends who accept you for who you are, who love you unconditionally, even during those times when either you or they are struggling. It seems that I can lose touch with a “keeper” friend and when we re-connect, it is as though no time has gone by and we pick up right where we left off. I think that this is possible because we are connected as spirits. Our friendships are not of the superficial kind. I think the biggest tip I can give is to learn to discern the difference between your keeper friends and the superficial ones and then nurture the relationships that feed your soul.
At this point in your life, is there anything you would tell your younger self? Any “I wish I knew this when” moments you can share with us?
Oh wow. If I could talk to that younger Mary Ann, I would have so much to say. First, I would tell her emphatically, “You are okay just the way you are.” I would say, “You were not put on this earth to please everyone else (oftentimes at your own expense). You were put here to live your own life without fear or guilt, to listen to your own heart and soul and live accordingly.” I would encourage her to be as authentic as possible in her relationships and that the more she can let down that protective armor that we all put around ourselves sometimes, the more love and joy she will experience in her lifetime. I would also encourage her to follow her passion, professionally and creatively, because working and living with joy is so much easier than trying to swim upstream doing something because you (or others) believe you should.
Wonderful advice, Mom. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your wise words with us!
ASSOCIATE EDITOR Jennifer Snyder is a freelance writer, editor and content creator based in the Sacramento region of California. Though writing is her first love, she has embraced her tendency to dabble and you can often find her capturing photos, editing videos, interviewing inspiring people or working on random visual art projects. She also sings loudly in the car. (You’ve been warned.) When she’s not stumbling upon new finds in her own city, she gives in to her insatiable urge to travel and explore the world as much as possible.
p.s. Want to read more about the women who inspire us? Don’t miss the touching stories shared by Erin’s mother, Mary!